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8 Ways to Stay Calm in the Midst of Chaos

When the world around you goes crazy, will you stay sane and hold things together? Here are 8 tips for staying calm and steady in the storm.
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It's the nature of business to create panic and chaos. Everyone dreams of a company that runs smoothly and efficiently, but ambitious entrepreneurs, managers and salespeople can't help but push for speed. Rather than slow down on a product release or turn down a customer or two until processes are ready, decisions are made that tax resources and send teams into a frenzy.

Whether you are the chaos creator or just caught in the fray, the best way you can bring sanity back to your team is to be an island of stability. It's harder than it sounds when people are running and screaming with their hair on fire, so here are 8 tips for smooth sailing.

1. Maintain Your Routine

When things get hectic and excited, people tend to abandon what they're doing so they can try to put out fires. Certainly problem issues need to be addressed, but if you totally abandon your regular responsibilities, you'll create new problems and more chaos. Assess and prioritize issues within the context of your current workload. Communicate honestly with customers and superiors so you can manage their expectations. Better to tell the truth up front so you can accomplish most of what's needed than to let everything fall apart when no one expects it.

2. Take a Break

A craze of activity can act like a magnet pulling more people into the mix and raising the level of chaos. Don't become a bigger part of the problem by jumping into the fray. Excuse yourself for a bit so you can step outside and regain your objectivity. Even if you stay at your desk, take a mental break with a short distraction. This will let you think through solutions for settling things down. Then you can address your colleagues or employees calmly.

3. Slow Down and Breathe

There is a saying among race car drivers: slow in the cockpit equals fast on the track. When you're going too quickly, carelessness is bound to occur, making an already chaotic situation much worse. Encourage your team to slow down the pace just enough so they can be methodical and careful. Hyperventilation never helps anyone, so take a few deep breaths and relax. If everyone stays focused and steady, much more can be accomplished in less time, making everyone more comfortable.

4. Identify and Manage Your Stress Points

If all the people on the team have reached the breaking point, then the whole place is sure to blow. You can't take care of everyone else, but you can surely manage your own stress. Practice self-awareness. Know what pushes your buttons and prepare for the inevitable by monitoring your stress level. Disengage before you get past the point of no return. Be open with others about what drives up your blood pressure so they can avoid a blow up and help keep things happy.

5. Call for a Timeout

Often chaos starts unnecessarily and builds momentum because people leap into action without consideration. Soon they are racing around screaming without thinking about whether there was actually a need for panic. No matter your position, you can be the voice of reason. Call for a momentary halt to the chaos, and quickly explain that 5 minutes of contemplation and calm discussion will help everyone be better organized. Then apply necessary measures to achieve the required objectives. If words aren't enough, bring in some food, which usually gets everyone's attention. Over pizza or cookies, you can help everyone assess the situation and define clear roles and actions.

6.  Keep Perspective

Some situations spiral out of control because people only focus on the difficulty in their specific area.  In many cases, the problem doesn't impact a large portion of the business, yet a sense of urgency travels throughout the team. Take a hard look at the repercussions of the problem as it relates to the big picture. Once you assess the potential fallout, isolate the issue to only those affected people so everyone else can go about their business.

7. Control What You Can Control

When the world is in a panic, you can't afford any effort to be wasted. Most likely there are issues beyond your reach. No need to waste valuable energy on those problems. Identify and resolve the issues you can solve quickly and efficiently first, so you have more resources later to calmly confront the bigger, more difficult problems.

8. Smile

Attitude is half the battle in a chaotic situation. High-stress teams dealing in trauma and emergencies are able to maintain not only their cool but also their humanity. They don't dismiss the seriousness of the situation; they simply relax and smile in a comforting (not fake) manner. With a simple honest smile, you can put yourself and others at ease and let everyone focus on the work rather than the emotion.

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IMAGE: Complot/Shutterstock
Last updated: Sep 9, 2013

KEVIN DAUM | Columnist

An Inc. 500 entrepreneur with a more than $1 billion sales and marketing track record, Kevin Daum is the best-selling author of Video Marketing for Dummies and the executive producer of Amilya! on 77WABC New York. Sign up here and never miss out on Kevin's thoughts and humor.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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